The dreams that we have while sleeping generate a range of reactions on waking up. They may scare, excite, tantalize, depress or elate us. We may relate to them as coming from another world but the fact is that they carry crucial information about our unconscious mind- the part of mind about which we are unaware but that makes us function like a puppet.
The Real Content of Dreams
Although dreams seem to be bizarre, they express important aspects of our personality and life. Their bizarreness emanates from the fact that we have lost touch with these aspects due to several important reasons. Careful interpretation reveals that they usually have following contents and themes:
1. Voices of Forgotten Self: As we grow and develop there are many parts of our self which are not approved or loved by significant others around us. In order to assure the love of our close ones we give up these parts of our self and become what is expected of us. Dream is a space where the forgotten self breathes and expresses itself.
2. Wish Fulfillment: In waking state our ethical and moral values do not allow us to experience a majority of our nasty desires and wishes. But once asleep, the conscious mind and its prohibitions relax and the taboo desires come to the forefront in form of a dream.
3. Mastering Traumatic Experiences: Dreams also allow a person to re-experience painful trauma in safety of sleep thereby developing an inner strength to handle the pain.
4. Perceptions of Significant Others: Dreams also carry the deep perceptions that we carry about people close to us. These attitudes and beliefs about our close ones are often not accessible to the conscious mind.
Technique of Dream Interpretation
Authentic dream interpretation is not a simple gimmick but requires years of intensive training and personal analysis. Dream interpretation is of value only when done by a qualified professional. Psychologists trained in the Psychoanalysis in our country have expertise in dream interpretation. Dream interpretation is done when a client comes for long-term psychotherapy in order to understand the enigmatic aspects of their mind. While interpreting the dream the relationship between the client and the therapist as perceived by the client is taken into account.
The therapist then breaks the dream into subparts and tells the client to freely associate to each part- the client is encouraged to talk freely whatever ideas come to their mind when thinking about individual subparts. The client is instructed not to banish any ideas that are coming up no matter how trivial, repulsive or bizarre they may seem. By this process complex images get broken into simple original ones, personal meaning behind symbols is unearthed and the hidden parts are revealed.
Tina’s Dream Interpretation
Tina approached me for psychotherapy because she had been feeling depressed and was experiencing a conflict due to her romantic relationship- she was struggling whether to go ahead or terminate it. She often mentioned that her conflict was only due to the fact that the guy probably lacked commitment. My efforts to understand her role in the conflict were unsuccessful initially. One of the dreams that she narrated helped us in understanding this conflict in a better manner and revealed that she had her own good reasons to keep away from the relationship which were largely unconscious.
“A man is madly running after me. I’m requesting people to help me. Nobody is willing to help. A man who is wearing a blue shirt turns his gaze from me. A woman wearing a pearl necklace refuses to help me. I’m helpless and keep on running. There are many tents but no place to protect me. Finally, the guy comes close to me and stabs in my stomach and I die in severe pain.’
When told to freely associate to the various parts of the dream, Tina came up with the following material. She always felt scared of being molested or raped while traveling alone. She felt that her boyfriend was just interested in sex and not in her and avoided close physical contact with him. The blue shirt and the pearl necklace in the dream belonged to her parents and therefore symbolically represented them. She recognized the couple in the dream as her parents. The tents in the dream reminded her of a school trip. She recalled that initially her father was unwilling to send her for the trip but gave in when she persisted. She also narrated scenes from Hindi films where the villain chases the heroine and rapes her. She told me that her boyfriend was very possessive and whenever they fought she feared revenge.
The man in the dream represented her boyfriend. The dream depicted her stark fear of sexuality and associated abandonment by her parents. I let her know that unconsciously she interpreted the path towards sexuality as one of great pain, abandonment and death as it meant being separated from her comforting parents. Thus, she was constantly trying to move away from the relationship as it was laced with all these terrors. The interpretation of the dream helped Tina understand that her unconscious fears were distorting the way she perceived her boyfriend and pressurizing her to terminate it.
Author: Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist at Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (VIMHANS), New Delhi